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Portable Generator Reviews

Whichever generator you buy should meet three important criteria: sufficient power to run your appliances and electronics, easy starting, and reliability. Apart from a few dissenting reports here and there, portable generator reviews indicate that our top three picks handily meet these standards.

The remaining two on our list take some heat for units that arrive damaged or fail after minimal use.

Generators Power.

A generator must have enough power, measured in watts, to run all your essential electricity-dependent gear at the same time. Otherwise, you'll be forced to choose which items to shut off so the generator can power the rest. Maybe you can get by without that 1,000-watt microwave for a day or two, but you don't want to have to decide between the refrigerator and the heater. That means you want a generator that provides at least 3,000 watts of running power. You can find cheaper generators with fewer watts, but they probably won't provide enough power for your needs. The amount of power that refrigerators, heating and cooling systems, house lights, radios, TVs, and laptops require adds up quickly. Factor in a microwave, a space heater, even a simple coffee maker or iron, and your total household watts usage will likely sail well past 3,000.

According to the reviews of portable generators we read, most users found that their electric backup unit was equal to the task. In fact, many reviewers crow about how much stuff they were able to run off their little portable generators. For example, in reviews posted at Amazon, users of the Champion Power Equipment 46539 (starting at $482) recite long lists of the appliances and electronics their units ran simultaneously -- various combinations of fridges, freezers, PCs, TVs, lights, boilers, and the like. When describing the might of the Champion Power Equipment 46533 (starting at $358) in reviews at Home Depot, users likewise reel off the electronics that keep on going -- radios, TVs, game consoles, computer equipment, appliances, and more. Numerous reviews of Champion Power Equipment portable generators clearly indicate that owners were impressed with their consistent and trouble-free performance during and after Hurricane Sandy.

Other budget generators we researched also deliver. The Gentron GG3500 (starting at $415) has enough muscle to run a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, a TV, and a couple of fans for up to 18 hours, according to a generators review at Sears. And one buyer of the Briggs & Stratton 30466 (starting at $400) writes in a post at Home Depot that this generator has "serious guts," saying it powered a double-door fridge, TV, DVD player, iPhones, and lamp with no hiccups at all. The Sportsman GEN4000LP (starting at $404) provides ample power for home electronics, and one generators review at Amazon asserts that it powered two apartments -- two refrigerators, three TVs, several lights, and a couple of laptops -- at the same time.

Generators Startup.

Portable generators have simple startup mechanisms, usually a recoil starter. Some models feature an electric starter but also include a recoil starter as backup. According to reviews posted by users, the models we researched pose few startup challenges. We didn't come across any complaints about generators refusing to start, even when relying exclusively on the recoil mechanism.

For example, the Champion Power Equipment 46533 is recoil-only, but reviews of the portable generator at sites such as Tractor Supply Co. say it starts easily, usually on the first pull. Another Champion Power Equipment model, the 46539, boasts an electric starter and a wireless remote starter, the latter being a feature that users find quite convenient. The Briggs & Stratton 30466 consistently earns kudos in reviews for its one-pull start, while shoppers at Sam's Club say the Gentron GG3500 is a breeze to fire up thanks to the electric starter.

Review continues below

Generators Quality.

Obviously, a generator that won't start or breaks down during a blackout is no help at all. Most of the models we researched boast excellent track records for performance and reliability. That said, you may be better off buying one at a brick-and-mortar store or arranging for store pick-up if you go the online route rather than having it delivered to your door. We read several generator reviews at Sam's Club and Sears claiming that the Gentron GG3500 arrived damaged (a number of users also gripe that the instructions for attaching the wheels are confusing); a similar complaint also cropped up occasionally in reviews of other models.

Reports about total breakdowns are fairly rare. We did see a few accounts of critical failure by the Briggs & Stratton 30466 in comments about the generator at Amazon; and yet, posts at other sites, like Electric Generators Direct, don't raise any red flags. Users who commented at Amazon also cite problems with the Sportsman GEN4000LP. One buyer says the generator stopped working after going through only two tanks of fuel and another grouses that several internal components fell apart after only a few hours of use.

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